By Dr Davin Lim
Best used: PM
Caution: Sensitive Skin, Rosacea, UV exposure
Best for: Anti-aging, skin pigmentation, acne, enlarged pores
Comments: More powerful than retinol, less irritation cf Retinoids
Mode of action: Chemical exfoliation, pigment corrector, collagen builder
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What is Retinaldehyde?
Retinaldehyde is a member of the retinoid family, also known as vitamin A. Retinol is the most powerful skin care active in dermatology. Retinoids work similarly in the skin to boost cell turnover and improve tone, texture & clarity. They also stimulate collagen production, in turn reducing fine lines, wrinkles & enlarged pores.
How is this different from Retinol?
Retinaldehyde is the closest molecule related to super powerful prescription retinoids such as tretinoin, adapalene & tazarotene. In summary, this is the most potent form of vitamin A you can obtain over the counter without a prescription. One of my favourites is the Medik8 Retinal, it's a best seller than even the legendary Caroline Hirons loves enough to put in her skin care kits!
Which is better - retinyl palmitate, retinol or retinaldehyde?
Retinyl palmitate, retinol, and retinaldehyde—have to undergo a conversion process in order to turn into retinoic acid before your skin can make use of the ingredient. The process goes in just that order, which also correlates with the retinoids' potency & efficacy. The more steps in the conversion process, the weaker the retinoid is.
The opposite applies to skin irritation, the more powerful the retinoid, the higher the chance of skin irritation. This is why it's important to understand that not everyone can tolerate retinoids. It is best to start on a weak retinoid, to avoid your skin journey from going backwards.
How can Retinaldehyde help my skin / what are the benefits of retinaldehyde?
As with other retinoids, this form of vitamin A is a powerful ingredient to complement your skin care routine. Retinaldehyde has the following activity:
Accelerates Cell Turnover: Cell turnover slows down dramatically with age. This results in a buildup of dead skin cells in the upper layers of skin. Retinoids increase the turnover of cells, replacing old ones with new. The result is brighter, even skin.
Collagen stimulation: This is one of the best known benefits of retinoids, including retinaldehyde. This action works in the deeper layer of the skin, where it boosts collagen synthesis for anti-aging benefits, increases elasticity, & repairs connective tissue in the skin. The result is less wrinkles & fine lines.
Pore effects: In speeding up cell turnover and acting as a chemical exfoliant, it also helps unclog pores & reduces blackheads. This is why retinoids form the foundation in acne treatments. Retinaldehyde also balances oil production, thus shrinking the pores to prevent them from getting clogged and inflamed.
Pigment corrector: Retinoids can decrease pigmentation, hence why they are frequently used to treat conditions like melasma, sun damage & post acne marks (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation).
How long does Retinaldehyde take to work?
Visible results can be seen around the four week mark, as this molecule is more powerful and acts much faster than other retinol-based products. Remember, the results seen in studies are controlled. In the real world, results may take much longer as it is advisable to start your retinoid journey slowly, increasing application time & amount over weeks not days.
What age should you start using retinoids?
Begin in Your Mid '20s or Early '30s. In your 20s, retinoids including retinaldehyde can help reduce the size of your pores, in addition to treating acne prone skin, commonly encountered in this age group.
In your 30s retinaldehyde can reduce the risk of fine lines & wrinkles, & can brighten your skin by reducing pigmentation production.
For 40’s & beyond, retinoids can improve skin cell turnover. This can brighten dull skin, & reduce sun spots & pigmentation, not to mention fine lines & wrinkles.
Can Retinaldehyde be used on sensitive skin?
Yes, however a more sensible stepping stone is to start with retinol or retinyl palmitate. The later has the least amount of skin irritation & hence may suit patients with conditions such as rosacea, or dermatitis.
What are the side effects of Retinaldehyde?
Side effects can be seen with all forms of vitamin A. Retinoic acid has the most amount of side effects (prescription retinoids), whist retinol & retinaldehyde have the least. Reported side effects include, redness, dry skin, flaky skin & sun sensitivity. The adequate use of moisturiser such as hyaluronic acid & squalene can reduce or eliminate the side effects of retinoids.
How do I use retinaldehyde?
The most important concepts regarding retinaldehyde application, (which goes with using any form of vitamin A) is don’t rush the process, & listen to what your skin is telling you.
Start out using it every second day, gradually working your way up to nightly use. If ANY type of skin irritation occurs reduce the frequency and amount used. Some people can use this nightly, whilst others, including myself, can only use vitamin A twice a week at most.
If you have any skin irritation you can use a moisturizer 30 minutes before & after application, taking care to avoid sensitive areas such as under the eyes and around the nose.
Is Retinaldehyde safe during pregnancy?
This is a very complex question to answer. My stance on this is to follow the product information provided. In reality the percentage of retinaldehyde converted does not exceed the recommended dosage for safety. Prescription retinoids including Tretinoin, Adapalene, Tazarotene, & Retin A are all contra-indicted in pregnancy.
How do I incorporate retinaldehyde in my daily skin care routine?
A sensible skin care routine that incorporates retinaldehyde goes something like this:
AM: Gentle cleanser, then antioxidants*, SPF, make up. (*Tocopherol, ferulic acid, ascorbic acid)
*There are many sensible options to combine skin care ingredients with endless combinations. The use of other acids such as AHAs, BHAs, retinoic, etc…with vitamin C should not be attempted with retinaldehyde.
A sensible starting point is to use a good formulation of retinaldehyde every other night and gradually incorporate it into your routine. If in doubt, dilute the active with a moisturiser, & conduct a test patch. Be guided by your skin care expert.
Davin’s Skin Protip
This molecule is really a stepping stone from retinyl palmitate to retinol then to retinaldehyde & finally to retinoic acid. Majority of patients will tend to have side effects on prescription retinoids, hence why I start the majority on a good formulation of retinol. The problem with initiating retinoid therapy in patients is the tendency to mix with other skin care actives such as ascorbic acid, skin care acids such as alpha hydroxy acids, BHAs, ferulic acid, etc… Too much, too soon, often ends up with sensitive & irritated skin with subsequent post inflammatory hyperpigmentation & perioral dermatitis.
For patients with sensitive skin, namely rosacea or dermatitis patients, the use of a milder retinoid is sensible. Remember, the most important aspect of skin care is formulation, not necessarily the concentration.